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D.C. cultural scene adopts new trends in food, fashion, arts, entertainment

Even in a recession, the culture bubble in the District seems nowhere near ready to burst. With more restaurants, nightlife and culture slated for 2011, we look at what defines Washington now.

Can we officially say the dandy is back? From events such as the Tweed Ride, which found hundreds of sharply dressed men in vintage clothes pedaling bicycles through downtown Washington last month, to local shirtmaker Hugh & Crye, which is bringing trimmer fits to hip silhouettes, it's clear that the fashion focus is trained on men.

"I don't know if there was a tipping point," says Pranav Vora, the youthful founder of Hugh & Crye, but "guys are dressing a little bit better, spending more. It's like it's okay to take more time to get ready."

Vora's company is all about fit, offering nine cuts based on height and build instead of the one-size-fits-none shirts that fill department store racks, reworking traditional pinstripes and oxford-cloth ties into something that looks fresh when worn with jeans and a pair of Jack Purcells.

Hugh & Crye lacks a retail location, but it bolstered its underground rep in 2010 by selling shirts at pop-up shops in the Hamiltonian Gallery on U Street and the women's fashion boutique Wink in Georgetown.

Of course, men's interest in fashion didn't spring up with the bow ties, fedoras and short pants and plain individualism being peacocked on U Street, explains Eric Brewer, one of the Tweed Ride's founders. "The same kids who five years ago were collecting sneakers and skateboards are now on the Web sites, collecting vintage men's apparel," Brewer says. "It's just that now the things that guys are obsessing over are the kinds of things that are catching women's attention: jackets that fit, shirts that fit, pieces that complement each other."

Brewer credits blogs with bringing the street style of far-flung places such as Japan and Europe to staid Washington. That would explain why you can suddenly see fashion's influence in the local music scene, which has adopted not only the dandy look but also the '70s-rock look, the preppy Lands' End look, even the severe Ramones look.

Arts: More like 'a movement' and less like a party scene

This year brought a million little revolutions: Major artists have been turning up in alley gallery the Fridge, and the work of unknowns was hung on the walls of a major museum, thanks to FotoWeek DC. The National Portrait Gallery hung a show about gay love, and then protesters came out en masse over (and continue to parse) the removal of David Wojnarowicz's "A Fire in My Belly" video from that show.

It's enough to make you forget all those parties with their DJs and their cheap wine - and look forward to everything that's ahead in the arts.

One week last month, more than 7,300 people visited the Corcoran to see the primary exhibits of FotoWeek DC, an upstart festival that arrived in Washington just a few years ago founded by an outsider who was neither curator nor museum insider. Theo Adamstein was a photographer and architect who felt photography didn't have the buzz it once did, so he swung open the doors, creating competitions that welcomed unknowns, work taken with cellphone cameras and work by children.

"Spontaneity isn't a word one connects with the museum or gallery world," Adamstein says. Whereas by their very nature museums seem built to keep artists out, with FotoWeek, "the organic nature of how this evolved made people feel comfortable, it made people want to participate," he says. In 2011, FotoWeek will become a year-round organization, FotoDC, which will host exhibitions through the year, beginning with a month-long exhibition in Crystal City in mid-March.

In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it alley on Capitol Hill, Fridge founder Alex Goldstein has also come seemingly out of the ether to establish what is Washington's own roundtable of street-art heavyweights. Decoy, Mark Jenkins, Tim Conlon: All have exhibited at the Fridge and then returned to teach kids and neighborhood residents. "We've literally had more than 200 artists in this place in the last calendar year," Goldstein says. "The gallery's mission is making a movement ."

For Victoria Reis, executive and artistic director of Transformer, the gallery that has been screening "A Fire in My Belly" the day after its controversial expulsion from the National Portrait Gallery, a little firestorm may be just what the movement needed. "I think it's a wake-up call less for arts organizations and more for how arts audiences and the community are going to be responding and supporting the arts," she says. It should be viewed, she adds, as "a rallying cry."

Sarah Newman, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran, has also pumped up the scene through the gallery's NOW series. Launched this fall, the series has new artists who may never have exhibited in Washington before but whose subject matter is Washington itself. "We see new art as revitalizing our spaces," Newman explains. "It revitalizes our collections. There are new trends in art - like merging traditional visual art with performances - that tell you different things about what's happening today. I think this is an interesting place to do it."

"The longer I live here - and I've lived here six years now - it's become more interesting every year," says Newman. "There are more restaurants, more art, more people interested in new art, new food, new theater. There's been a critical mass that's continued to grow."

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